Friday, June 06, 2008

COLUMN: Parents


It's the first week of June in the year two thousand and eight, and I strangely find myself with something quite unexpected and interesting: a pretty solid prospect for a girlfriend.

That's right, ladies, you can commence weeping. Yours truly may be off-the-market for a hot minute. (Hang on to those dance cards, though. I'm certain I'll drive her away soon enough with my endless prattle about music and video games. Just wait.)

In the meantime, though, I'm a pretty happy guy -- but I'm having a tough time remembering exactly how to pull off this whole "dating" business. I'm seriously out of practice. There's more to it than just sitting on one's couch and going "sooo, w'sup?" when the commercials hit.

I have to remember to to open doors and pull out chairs. To NOT schedule Rock Band practices EVERY night of the week. To be, like, a gentleman and stuff. Yikes.

I'm giving it my best shot. This past weekend, I survived the ultimate trial by fire. The scariest part about dating someone new. The evening most guys dread with a lump in their gut. The night that can make or break an entire relationship:

I met the parent.

Over the years, I've walked through a lot of doors, and I've had to meet a lot of parents. From these encounters, I've learned one very important fact:

Parents either LOVE me or HATE me. There's no middle ground whatsoever. If they've got a good sense of humor, I can usually win 'em over. If they don't, I'll be bound to do something stupid and blow the whole deal.

Flashback: 1990. I was dating a girl whose parents lived in the south suburbs of Chicago. I'd only had a couple of brief run-ins with them when an opportunity presented itself to get in some quality time with her folks. My roommate at the time needed a ride to a debate tournament at a school that just happened to be in the same Chicago suburb. I gave him a lift, and in turn earned an excuse to spend a weekend earning brownie points with the folks, right?

Well, back in the 90's, there used to exist a record store in the suburbs called The Turntable. It was the mecca for hardcore music nerds like me. Never again will there be a record store as exciting, awesome, or nerd-tastic, trust me. And being in the suburbs for the weekend, I wasn't about to let an opportunity to pay homage go to waste. So after dropping my roommate off, I decided to make a quick shopping detour.

What I didn't realize at the time is that it's one loooong drive from the south suburbs of her hometown to the north suburbs of The Turntable. And, because expressways used to spook me, I decided to do it on side streets. How long could it possibly take?

The answer: ALL DAY. And some of the night. By the time I had snaked up there, made a breathless perusal for music, and snaked back, the stars were out. Not only had I managed to miss reservations with her parents for dinner, I had completely stranded my roommate at the debate tournament, to the point that he had to call HER parents for a lift to our hotel. Since I couldn't reach her folks by phone, I'm sure they could only assume that I'd chosen an odd time to kidnap their daughter and flee the area. In the grand scope of bad impressions, this was legendary.

It's the recollection of such episodes that explains why I found myself in my car on Sunday, driving to meet my maybe-girlfriend's mom, sweating like a teenager. 37 years old and my mind was still preparing scripts. "It's SUCH a pleasure to meet [whoever's in the room.]" "Ooh, this is such a nice [whatever I'm staring at.]" "Yes, I LOVE [whatever food product is being made.]" Basically anything that DIDN'T say, "Hi. I'm kind of a loser. I'll be the one corrupting your precious daughter. Hand her over."

Instead, when I got there, what I said was: nothing. I walked in the door and it was as if every synapse in my brain suddenly went on strike. I met her mom, sat down, and zoned out to the TV like a zombie. Rather than take command of the situation to make a good impression, I instead chose to concentrate fully on "America's Funniest Home Videos" as though a guy getting kicked in the groin was THE most infinitely fascinating thing I had ever seen.

I am, it turns out, kind of a loser. Happily, though, her mom ISN'T. It turns out she's really cool. She's funny, she's sarcastic, and she doesn't take grief from anybody. She's my kind of people, even if she DOES have a weird fetish for chicken-related knick-knacks. And I should talk -- just last week I bought an etched glass paperweight of a unicorn inexplicably jumping over a lobster. Compared to THAT thing, chickens are pretty normal.

The point is, whenever you're faced with a similar scenario, just be yourself, even if yourself is a bit of a weirdo. It's always a better fate to be hated for something you are than to be loved for something you're not. All you can do is try and earn respect and trust, and that's better than any first impression. Here's to you, Mrs. S. Thanks for going easy on me.

1 comment:

LWebster said...

heh heh heh.. fun post! good luck with the almost girlfriend! and p.s., i found you through the link for QCA bloggers on qconline.